years ago, I realized that, for a long time, I had been fighting-back tears
whenever I would see children run gleefully around a playground or hear them squeal
with delight as they played, or notice their wonder over wildflowers, squirrels
and birdsong. It would happen, too, when
I listened to a choir of children sing at the top of their lungs without
embarrassment or when I saw a kids’ soccer team take the field with buoyant energy.
a good while, I assumed that the tears must have welled-up in me because I was
grieving something I had lost in childhood but couldn’t quite name as an
I noticed, though–and I know this is odd–that I would also get misty-eyed when
I saw big men (having been big most of my life) doing outrageous things—sometimes consequential outrageous things
and sometimes silly outrageous things.
When John Goodman would waltz around the kitchen on “Roseanne,” or John
Belushi would sing and dance like a wild man in his Blues Brothers’ routine, or Willard Scott would dress up like
Carmen Miranda or Ronald McDonald or take off his toupee on national
television, or Luciano Pavorotti would sing without restraint, I could hardly
contain an odd mixture of joy and sadness.
I wondered, did playful children and these big men doing outrageous things have
in common? For a few moments at least,
they “forgot themselves”; they were free from the burden of self-consciousness.
said we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves; and it’s also true, I
think that we should love ourselves as we love our neighbors. It’s right and good to include ourselves in our
circle of wise and tender care. “Self-care,”
though, is not the same thing as “self-consciousness.”
we are mired up in self-consciousness, we worry constantly about how we will appear
to others, what they will think of us, and what they will do to us. We live
cautiously and carefully, not taking risks, because we might fail, and not
dreaming dreams, because they might not come true. Self-conscious people learn to defend
themselves and hold themselves back from life.
Jesus calls us to “deny ourselves,” he’s inviting us, in part, to let go of our
“false selves.” I also think he’s offering
us the gift of freedom from the burden of self-consciousness; he’s pointing us
toward the exhilarating experience of “losing” ourselves in marvels, mysteries,
joys, and wonders which are greater than we but which graciously include and